By Sharine Sample

Sit back and really think about what makes a good leader. Who comes to your mind?

What characteristics make that person stand out above the rest? Do they motivate and inspire? And do they seem to genuinely have people’s and their organization’s best interests at heart?

Author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek says it eloquently: “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” This is one way to describe the concept of person-centered leadership.

Being a person-centered leader is so important in today’s workforce. In a time when employers struggle to recruit and retain talent, leaders who prioritize good relationships with employees can be the deciding factor in your business’s success.

You can view being a person-centered leader as having a pyramid approach. Everything should come from the top down and then travel back up, covering all your organization, team members, and functions. Knowing how to be a person-centered leader will help you achieve goals, generate the best ideas, and retain employees.

What are the top qualities of a person-centered leader?

#1: Know your people. I was taught this concept, and I will continue to share it with every leader I train. Knowing your people is the most important aspect of any job. Know their likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. Know each team member as a person – not just as their job title. Yes, this takes time and effort on your part…but wouldn’t you feel better knowing that your supervisor thinks of you as an individual with needs and interests outside of work? Getting to know your team builds rapport because it shows employees that you care. I’m thankful that leaders in my organization never start a conversation without asking how I’m doing, how my family is, and what’s going on with me. I’m a firm believer in getting to know your people first, and then the job performance will come. When you know your team, you can better motivate and inspire them to be the best versions of themselves.

#2: Be their biggest cheerleader.  If you are in a leadership or supervisory role, I hope that you’re cheering on your team every day. Applaud their work efforts, project completions, successes, and their little achievements along the way – and never forget how long they’ve stuck by your side. Their celebrations are also your celebrations. Remember your team members’ birthdays and seniority dates. People perform better when they feel valued and appreciated. It’s not all about the money for most people. It boils down to loyalty; employees who feel that they matter will stick around.

#3: Know their communication style.  This is a biggie. Knowing how your employees feel most comfortable communicating is important. People are more open and receptive to ideas and feedback if they’re presented in a way that they can relate to. Ask yourself: Is the person you’re having a conversation with more passive, assertive or aggressive? Do they take feedback well? Pay attention to how they communicate with you. Do they prefer emailing, face-to-face conversation, or texting? This also will take time. But your interactions with your team will be more successful if you first understand how they are most comfortable communicating with you.

#4: Know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.  Saved the best for last.  Simon Sinek has become a trusted author and speaker because of his principle-centered approach to leadership. Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”  Consider that for a second.  Your team is more apt to jump on board if they know how their actions contribute to your organization’s mission and success. For me, this is one of the most important characteristics of person-centered leadership. It’s the leader’s job to make sure that the team knows the goal and how everyone can contribute to it. Remember: the team that you are leading is also the team that you are entrusting to carry out the work. They will have greater respect for you and be more motivated if they understand why you’ve asked them to do what they do. Sinek says, “The ability of a group of people to do remarkable things hinges on how well those people can pull together as a team.” No pressure, but teamwork starts with leadership.

Person-centered leadership is a valued concept and worth working for. It helps build trust, loyalty, productivity, and longevity within your workforce. This style of leadership is an invaluable characteristic in today’s workplace, and your organization will be better because of it.


Sharine Sample is the Regional Workforce Development Manager at Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina.

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